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Chlorine and Carbon Isotopes Fractionation during Volatilization and Diffusive Transport of Trichloroethene in the Unsaturated Zone

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journal contribution
posted on 20.03.2012, 00:00 by Simon Jeannottat, Daniel Hunkeler
To apply compound-specific isotope methods to the evaluation of the origin and fate of organic contaminants in the unsaturated subsurface, the effect of physicochemical processes on isotope ratios needs to be known. The main objective of this study is to quantify chlorine and carbon isotope fractionation during NAPL–vapor equilibration, air–water partitioning, and diffusion of trichloroethene (TCE) and combinations of these effects during vaporization in porous media. Isotope fractionation is larger during NAPL–vapor equilibration than air–water partitioning. During NAPL–vapor equilibration, carbon, and chlorine isotope ratios evolve in opposite directions although both elements are present in the same bond, with a normal isotope effect for chlorine (εCl = −0.39 ± 0.03‰) and an inverse effect for carbon (εC = +0.75 ± 0.04‰). During diffusion-controlled vaporization in a sand column, no significant carbon isotope fractionation is observed (εC = +0.10 ± 0.05‰), whereas fairly strong chlorine isotope fractionation occurs (εCl = −1.39 ± 0.06‰) considering the molecular weight of TCE. In case of carbon, the inverse isotope fractionation associated with NAPL–vapor equilibration and normal diffusion isotope fractionation cancel, whereas for chlorine both processes are accompanied by normal isotope fractionation and hence they cumulate. A source of contamination that aged might thus show a shift toward heavier chlorine isotope ratios.